Taking it easy in the tea plantations
15.07.2011 - 21.07.2011
After descending from the caves in Dambulla we grabbed our bags and took a bus to Kandy. This is at the start of the Hill Country, and was noticeably cooler than the other places we’d been. We’d booked to stay at Pink House, which turned out to be a lovely place for a couple of nights. It felt like we were staying in someone’s home, with extended family, kids, dogs and cats all coming and going.
Kandy is a useful entry point for the rest of the Hill Country, and sounded like a nice place to visit. Its main attraction is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which houses what is claimed to be a tooth taken from the Buddha’s funeral pyre. We visited this on our second day here, and joined a typically anarchic queue to catch a glimpse of the shrine in which the tooth is kept.
We enjoyed the food in Kandy, where we sampled Lamprais for lunch (rice, curry, hard-boiled egg all cooked in a banana leaf), and had dinner of Kabul Rotti (pancake stuffed with meat, egg and vegetables) at the Muslim Hotel.
Unable to reserve seats on the train, we decided to take the bus to our next stop, Nuwara Eliya. Pleasingly, this scenic trip only took a couple of hours, twice as fast as the train would have been. Nuwara Eliya is very high – around 1800m – and is called ‘Little England’ due to its climate. Living up to its name, it was cold when we arrived, and then it started raining.
Our reason for staying in Nuwara Eliya was to visit Horton Plains National Park, and to see the view at ‘World’s End’. We arranged to go with a driver from our hotel, leaving at 5.30am so as to see the park before it was shrouded in mist. The jeep wasn’t particularly suited to the wet climate of the area, having no windscreen wipers and bald tyres, and it was an uncomfortable 1.5hours over bumpy roads to get to the park entrance just 27km away from our hotel.
The walk through the park was great – it’s a really weird landscape, filled with unusual plants, bird calls and with low cloud rolling just overhead. It took us around an hour to get to World’s End, which is a sheer drop of nearly 900m. An amazing sight, we stopped there for a while taking in the view and eating our packed lunch. The walk back took in more plains, forests and a waterfall.
We had hoped to see some wildlife, but sightings in the park were limited to small birds, a chicken and a rustle in the bushes that might have been a deer. On the way back though, we stopped for a large sambar deer that was stood at the side of the road; it came up and licked the window.
In the afternoon we were given a tour of a nearby tea factory. It was interesting to see all the different processes that the leaves go through. The cuppa we got given at the end was pretty good too.
We were unsure of where to head after Nuwara Eliya. We were a bit ahead of schedule and so had some time to fill, but the weather forecast didn’t encourage us towards a week on the beach. Ella sounded like a good place to spend a couple of lazy days, so we decided to try our luck there.
The train journey to Ella made the one from Colombo look bland. In a rickety third class carriage (no other option on our train) on hard bench seats, we thought it might feel like a long journey. The spectacular scenery meant that we couldn’t have been bored though, and the snail’s pace of the train just enabled us to enjoy it more.
On arrival to Ella we realised we’d made the right choice of where to come. It’s a small village in a valley with a handful of cafes and a lot of guesthouses. Possibly more important it was warm and sunny.
There’s not much to do in Ella; on the first evening we watched a cookery demonstration at our guest house, then ate the delicious food for dinner (garlic curry was particularly good). There are a couple of walks that take you up to the high points either side of Ella Gap, which we also did. The walk to Ella Rock was great – the first mile or so is along the railway track, which seems to be used by everyone as a thoroughfare. It was a welcome change after a busy few weeks to just sit, read and write some postcards. We liked it so much we stayed for three nights in total.
Tom relaxing in the garden outside our room
Blog writing in the hotel restaurant overlooking Ella Gap